The CFS provider education project disseminated CFS self-study course opportunities and resources at 57 conferences over a five-year period. At 14 of these conferences, the educational project met the 15% booth visit criteria for reaching conference attendees. Significant factors associated with successful booth attendance included conference type, conference size, and CFS presentations as part of the planned conference agenda.
At least 1 of each of the conference types, primary care, illness related, specialty mixed, and allied professionals, met successful booth visit criteria. However, illness related and specialty mixed population conference categories resulted in 10 conferences with booth visits at or above the 15% rate. Illness related conferences focused specifically on CFS or similar illnesses. One explanation for the interest in CFS among providers at these meetings is that they treat CFS patients in their practices, or CFS may be a specialty interest.
The dissemination project targeted primary care providers, yet only 3 of 30 primary care provider conferences met successful booth visit rate criteria. Moreover, illness related conferences were significantly more likely than primary care to result in successful booth visits. However, 24 of 30 primary care conference were large size conferences (n > 1000). The fact that many of the primary care conferences were large may have influenced the primary care category. Future educational initiatives in the area of chronic fatiguing illness should consider conference size when planning to target primary care providers at conferences.
Conference size was the best predictor of successful booth attendance. Small conference size (<1000) was more likely to result in higher dissemination levels than large conference size (> 1000), and this result was confirmed in both the descriptive and logistic regression analysis. One hypothesis is that small conferences are not so overwhelming for participants and give attendees more flexibility and time in visiting conference exhibit booths.
Nine of the 14 primary care provider conferences were National in scope and represented 20% of all National conferences. Yet, the State category (with 5 of the 14 conferences falling in this category) yielded a higher rate of 83% for all State conferences. While the results were not significant in the logistic analysis, it is noteworthy as many providers attend national conferences sponsored by their disciplines and may overlook state level conferences. While national conferences provide broad opportunities for partnerships and networking with academics, researchers and clinicians that are often not available at smaller conferences, our study descriptively observed that state level conferences cannot be overlooked as one way to disseminate health education materials. State conferences are less costly to attend, require less travel time and are of shorter duration, which minimizes time commitment for the participant.
Conferences in which there was an additional CFS component (e.g., speaker or highlighted research) resulted in 64% of conferences meeting the criteria suggesting that an expert presentation or research in which CFS was the focus may have prompted a higher number of booth visitors. The presence of an expert presentation was a significant factor in successful booth visits.
Requests for the CME self-study course through conferences were more than 3-fold as compared to advertisements in journals. The most requested medium for all self-study materials through conferences and journal advertisements was print-based matter (77%). While data show that requests (by medium) for print and online courses are equal (~40% each), the online course accounted for 84% of the overall awards compared to 14% for the print course. The online course requires registration, online learning and examination, and instant submission when the module is completed - all of which can be conducted in one sitting, or in multiple shorter online sessions, whichever the user prefers. Print courses place the burden on the user to complete the course and submission for awarded credit.
Allied health professionals and nurses led the award certifications and accounted for 63% of all certificates. Physicians accounted for one-fourth of the awards. All occupation groups had higher certificate awards for the online course compared to either the print or DVD/Video course. However, the non-physician group (mainly physician assistants and nurse practitioners) had a more narrow range between online and print course completion with awards of 52% (n = 63) and 43% (n = 52), and preferred both the print and online course material.
Anecdotal evidence supports the finding that nurses and allied health professionals completed the course in high numbers. These providers are often involved in the management of CFS patients and therefore may be more likely to seek additional information. Conversely, it is plausible for physicians to have lower rates given time constraints in clinical practice.
Several limitations to this study must be noted. First, data collection for the self-study course evaluation occurred at the descriptive measurement level. However, descriptive, observational studies offer important contributions to research and evaluation when it is not feasible to conduct an experimental design and resources are limited. Second, the 15% booth criteria rate was selected as a marker for successful educational dissemination in this study. To our knowledge the literature makes no reference as to the definition of success in material distribution. However, since the overall booth visit rate for all 57 conferences is 5%, we feel this criterion was valid as a cut-off point for this study. Finally, while advances in Internet medical education technology allow for greater efficiency and access to a bigger population, methods for online observational data collection are subject to similar limitations as in-person data collection. For example, while 1951 people registered for the online course, only 833 (43%) completed the course. More research is needed to explain why 57% of people who registered for the course did not complete it.
Dissemination of provider education materials is a challenge for CFS and other illnesses such as autism, Lyme disease, and chronic interstitial cystitis, and many outreach programs rely on the traditional method of continuing education to reach and educate providers. Health education and continuing education programs wishing to distribute provider medical education materials for awareness and continuing education credits awards may find these results useful in guiding resource planning and outreach efforts.
Healthcare conferences are still a popular event among providers and offer an opportunity to disseminate education materials through educational booths. Results of this research show that educational outreach efforts could benefit from conducting a needs assessment of how to reach the primary audience and best utilize resources. This assessment would include looking at the conference type, conference size, and investing in expert speakers at conferences. The types of materials handed out at such conferences should also be examined in the context of the project objectives. While print materials were the most popular in this research, they yielded the half the award certificates as the online course. Educators need to develop methods for steering potential educational booth visitors to the Internet. Dissemination of CME self-study courses as conferences was more successful than advertising the same course in journals.